Chief Executive’s response to Further Education Skills for Jobs White Paper

Click the link below to read a copy of the letter sent from Northern Housing Consortium Chief Executive Tracy Harrison to Gillian Keegan MP in response to the Further Education Skills for Jobs White Paper:

The letter draws attention to a report published in late 2020 by IPPR North called Northern Powerhomes: A green recovery plan to decarbonise homes in the North which highlights how decarbonisation could act as a much-needed economic stimulus.

CLICK HERE to read the letter in full

Influential Select Committee Energy Efficiency report reflects NHC evidence

An influential Conservative-led House of Commons Select Committee has recommended urgent action to improve energy efficiency of homes, citing written and oral evidence provided by the NHC. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has this week recommended rolling out the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and Homes Upgrade Grants ‘without delay’ with funding front-loaded.

The NHC submitted written evidence to the Committee last July, and our Senior Policy Advisor Karen Brown appeared before the Committee to provide oral evidence in November.  Our key messages to the Committee were that home energy efficiency could play an important role in the North’s economic recovery from Covid-19, and that bringing forward the £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund would enable councils and housing associations to retrofit homes at scale and speed.

Commenting on the publication of the report, Committee Chair Rt. Hon Philip Dunne MP (Conservative) said:

 “Making 19 million homes ready for net zero Britain by 2050 is an enormous challenge that the Government appears to have not yet grasped. In the next 29 years, the Government must improve energy efficiency upgrades and roll out low carbon heating measures: a material start must be made now.

 “Government investment to improve energy efficiency has been woefully inadequate. The £9 billion that the Government pledged at the election was welcome, but 16 months on, there appears to be no plan nor meaningful delivery.”

 The cross-party Committee references evidence from the NHC eight times in its final report. It notes that ‘the Northern Housing Consortium said expenditure of the promised £3.8bn [Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund] should be brought forwards so that councils and housing associations can retrofit homes at scale and speed.’.

The report goes on to say:

“We welcome the Social Housing Decarbonisation fund and support its aims to retrofit social housing at scale. However, to date only a fraction of the funding has been made available for demonstrator projects that may well not deliver the efficiencies that larger schemes could achieve.

 The Government should bring forward the allocation of the £3.8bn of funding pledged before the 2019 general election. This would deliver cost savings at scale. This funding should be frontloaded to reap the benefits of cumulative emissions savings towards net zero. The Government should also allow housing associations to lead bids, so as to ensure that the available funding is used quickly and effectively.”

This is the second report from the Enivronmental Audit Committee in 2021 to cite the NHC’s evidence, following our written submission to the same Committee’s Inquiry on Greening the post-Covid Recovery.  Commenting, NHC Chief Executive Tracy Harrison said:

“I really welcome the Committee’s recommendations, particularly that they have added their voice to calls for the £3.8bn social housing decarbonisation fund to be brought forward and front-loaded – this chimes with the messages the NHC is delivering to Government on behalf of the North’s housing sector. This is another great example of how the NHC is making the voice of housing in the North heard in Westminster and Whitehall.”

 Government is obliged to respond to Select Committee Reports and Recommendations within 60 days of their publication.

For more information on our work with this Select Committee, contact Karen Brown – karen.brown@northern-consortium.org.uk

 

Regional climate coalitions gather pace

Regional climate coalitions in Yorkshire & Humber and the North East have gathered pace this month. The North’s housing sector is playing an important role in both coalitions.

On 17th March, the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Comission held a well-attended launch event, which is available to watch again on YouTube. The Commission is an independent advisory body set up to bring actors from the public, private and third sectors together to support and guide ambitious climate actions across the region. It is part of the Place-Based Climate Action Network.

Martyn Broadest, Executive Director at NHC member Connect Housing Association, is one of the Commissioners, joining commissioners from across the public, private and voluntary sectors. The opportunities around housing retrofit were raised several times at the launch event, including by Sheffield City-Region Mayor Dan Jarvis. You can read Martyn’s blog about the first meeting of the Yorkshire & Humber Climate Commission on the Connect Housing website.

In the North East, the NHC is facilitating the housing retrofit workstream of the North East England Climate Coalition.  NEECCo is a cross-sector initiative bringing the region together to tackle climate emergency, reverse ecological collapse and deliver and urgent and just transition – with the aim of the North East becoming England’s Greenest Region. It has the support of LEPs, Universities, the Chamber of Commerce, voluntary sector and leading businesses in the region.

The housing retrofit workstream has met three times and is overseen by a high-level group chaired by NHC Chair Paul Fiddaman.  The group have agreed a Statement of Intent aiming to ensure all the region’s homes reach EPC C by 2030. Work is now underway to implement the group’s emerging Delivery Plan.  A parallel group led by Constructing Excellence North East is looking at new-build development of all types and close links are being formed between the two workstreams.

NEECCo will launch officially in the coming weeks, and NHC members in the North East can expect to hear lots more about the Coalition in the run-up to the COP Summit in Glasgow later this year. For information on the NEECCo retrofit work being supported by the NHC, contact Anna Seddon – anna.seddon@northern-consortium.org.uk

NHC meet the minister

As part of our efforts to influence housing decarbonisation plans, NHC Chair Paul Fiddaman and CEO Tracy Harrison met with Climate Change Minister Lord Callanan earlier this month.  A former MEP and local councillor in Tyne and Wear, Lord Callanan is now a minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The meeting was arranged to discuss the green home upgrade plans the NHC has worked with IPPR North to develop. The NHC emphasised the opportunity that exists for the North’s housing sector to deliver on two of Government’s top priorities: levelling-up and net zero, with potential for 77,000 jobs across the North by 2035. Lord Callanan was joined by senior officials leading the development of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund.  The meeting also covered skills and the resources the social housing sector can bring to bear with the right support from Government.

Commenting, NHC Chief Executive Tracy Harrison said, “The Minister clearly understood our case and we were pleased to further build on our dialogue with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is clear that much will rest on the multi-year Spending Review expected later this year. We will continue to make the case for a front-loaded social housing decarbonisation fund that would enable the North to deliver at scale and pace.”

To discuss the Northern Powerhomes report, or our engagement on levelling-up and net zero, please contact Brian Robson (Executive Director – Policy & Public Affairs) brian.robson@northern-consortium.org.uk

Mediaworks scoops Third Sector website gong for transformational Home Group project 

Future facing digital marketing agency, Mediaworks is celebrating after its work for one of the UKs biggest housing groups was named as one of the best new websites.

The prestigious UK Dev Awards 2021 has named Home Group’s new website as the best Third Sector website in the last 12 months. Mediaworks developed a site that aimed to digitally transform the volume of physical calls into Home Group’s contact centre, driving enquiries online and enabling the group to prioritise its most vulnerable and most urgent queries. Home Group is one of the UK’s largest social housing and care providers.

The resulting digital approach saw an incredible 486% year on year uplift in Home Group’s customer interaction with its online repairs section, an 82% increase in customer satisfaction feedback on the usefulness of its site and, crucially, more than a third of its customers switch from call centre contact to online contact with the launch of the new site.

Brett Jacobson, CEO and founder at Mediaworks said: “I’m thrilled for the full team, both at Mediaworks and at Home Group, who drove this transformational digital project. It was an extensive and detailed piece of work that underlines our dedication to delivering great work in true partnership.

“Knowing the new site has driven real behavioural change for Home Group’s customers shows that our focus on delivering data-driven, innovative solutions that create measurably successful performance for our own clients is the right one.”

Jo Hamilton, Head of Digital at Home Group said: “Our new website has become so much more than a shop window. This has helped our colleagues across the UK to engage with us in a quicker manner which, in turn, enables us to get to the root of their issues far more efficiently.

“For us, that was the most rewarding part of this project in partnership with Mediaworks, but this award win gives everyone a sense of pride that its approach has been recognised as truly transformational within the Third Sector.”

“Mediaworks is a fantastic partner to consult with. Their breadth of expertise and design with a data-led approach allowed us to better guide our customers towards self-serve methods. “This was a strategically-significant investment for Home Group. The project set out to relaunch our online experience to encourage our stakeholders to adopt our digital channels and prioritise high-volume enquiries so they could easily be found through online search and answered through an intuitive experience.”

Summarising the entry, judges from the UK Dev Awards said: “We were really impressed with the website solution. The whole process was extremely valuable, from user research to business objectives, and shows a clear connection between user experience and tech.”

Mediaworks now delivers a range of digital services, including a full complement of performance marketing services, brand strategy, and digital transformation across four UK sites. In the last 12 months, Mediaworks has picked up national and international digital marketing briefs from the likes of Johnnie Johnson, Believe Housing and St Modwens in addition to household name such as Cath Kidston, Dune London, Johnson & Johnson, Miele and LADbible Group.

NHC’s Brief Guide to the Levelling Up Fund

The Levelling Up Fund prospectus was published with the Budget on 3 March.  It will invest £4.8 billion in high value local infrastructure.

Here are the 10 key things you need to know about the Fund:

  • UK-wide -The Fund is UK-wide but intended for places that need it the most such as ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities.
  • Places’ Categorisation – places have been categorised as 1, 2, or 3, with category 1 representing places with the highest levels of identified need.
  • Cross-department – The Fund brings together the Department for Transport, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury and each phase of funding will priorities a range of projects across departments.
  • Treasury Green Book Review – Project appraisal will incorporate the revised approach of the Green Book announced at Budget 2020 to “make sure that government investment spreads opportunity across the UK.” The revised Green Book contains new guidance on place-based analysis.
  • Shovel-ready – The first round of the Fund closes for bids in June and will prioritise bids that can demonstrate investment or begin delivery on the ground in the 2021-22 financial year. All funding provided from the Fund to be spent by 31 March 2024, and, exceptionally, into 2024-25 for larger schemes. There will be future opportunities to bid in subsequent rounds.
  • Competitive Bidding – The Levelling Up Fund is a competitive fund and bids will be prioritised that can demonstrate investment or begin delivery on the ground in the coming financial year. The 2020 Spending Review allocated up to £600 million in 2021-22.
  • Local Authority role – Funding will be delivered through local authorities and every local authority can submit at least one bid for projects that require up to £20m of funding.
  • Capacity funding – A flat £125,000 of capacity funding will be allocated to all eligible local authorities – defined in the prospectus as those most in need of levelling up as identified in the place index – to support bids for later rounds of the Fund. Local authorities will not be able to use the capacity funding in time to support bids for the first round.
  • Members of Parliament – Local MPs will back one bid that they see as a priority – local authorities can submit one bid for every MP whose constituency lies wholly within their boundary. The prospectus states that such support from local MPs is not a necessary condition for a successful bid, however, it is clear from the prospectus that this will be an important factor.
  • Prioritisation of Places – the Government published the methodology note on 11th March confirming that low productivity and long commutes to work were prioritised, rather than wider measures of deprivation such as those used for the Index of Multiple Deprivation.

 

You can read a more in depth breakdown in our full and free report at THIS LINK. Follow @NHC to keep up to date with the leading issues in the housing sector.

Thirteen’s experiences since the roll out of Universal Credit

Susan Borrow, Care and Support Manager (contracts) at Thirteen, reflects on Thirteen’s experiences since the roll out of Universal Credit, the measures we’ve put in place and investments we’ve made to ensure tenants have been able to manage their claims and maintain their tenancies.

Universal Credit (UC) has been with us in the Tees Valley for a few years now. Hartlepool was the first of our local authority areas to move onto the new benefit, and we’ve since helped thousands of our customers through the process of claiming UC for the first time.

A key element of the move from legacy benefits to UC was that housing costs would be paid direct to customers as part of one monthly payment, rather than direct to landlords – which posed a financial risk to social landlords. 

 Our data tells us that 10,332 of our current customers have transitioned to UC; 2,926 in Hartlepool, 3,358 in Middlesbrough, 3,372 in Stockton and 676 in other areas.

 To start with, the average rent arrears increase being incurred by each of our customers transitioning to UC was £200. Since we’ve had a team in place, customers average rent arrears confirmed on the UC claim date decrease by approximately £53 by the UC payment date.

Since April 2019, our UC Team has:

  • Supported 6516 customers with new and existing UC claims
  • Helped customers access over £2.8million in UC and £1.1 million in other benefits
  • Secured £57,000 in grants for customers

 

So how have we achieved this?

Along with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), councils and housing providers across the North East, we went straight into learning mode, forming working groups to share information and experiences, all working together and giving our customers the best support we could.

We also organised the region’s first UC conferences in 2018 for other housing associations, local authorities and other agencies to share our learnings. These were attended by more than 300 staff from 80 organisations.

We found that providing the right support for people claiming UC was essential to make sure things worked for customers, with some really positive outcomes. We did come across issues in the early days; claiming was complicated, many people found the online application hard to fill in, it was taking longer than expected for customers to get their payments and, since everyone’s personal situations are different, claims would bring up issues we hadn’t seen before. Customers were also naturally worried about how they would manage with the wait for the first payment.

We learned from the roll-out in Hartlepool that having the right support was the biggest factor in making UC work for people. So, in advance of Stockton and Middlesbrough moving to the full digital UC service in 2018, we recruited a team of 16 colleagues dedicated to working with customers from the time they made their claim to the time their first payment came in.

With backgrounds in benefits, rents and money advice and expertise in Universal Credit, the team helped nearly 3,000 customers in their first year. The team provides a one-to-one support package to customers as they newly transition onto UC, and also helps existing claimants if they have a change in circumstances.

A key element of this is managing and responding to rent verifications via the Government portal and making sure we contact customers to offer support as a preventative measure. The support we offer is tailored to the individual because we know one size doesn’t fit all.

We help customers get their claim right so that they’re getting everything they’re entitled to, and empower them so that they fully understand the UC process and payment arrangements. As well as supporting customers from their initial claim date through to payment date, the team also offers advice with issues around historical benefits, helping make sure they’re getting all of the other benefits they might be entitled to, as well as any grant funding they might be eligible for. Any customers needing UC support after their first payment date can access further help through our Money Advice Team. 

 We also look at options to help customers get by during the wait for their first payment, and work with lots of other agencies and charities to make sure people can eat, heat their homes and support them to manage on an often really limited budget.

Pre-pandemic, the team was co-located in every Jobcentre Plus in the Tees Valley, working directly with the DWP to make sure claims were processed correctly. When the first Covid-19 lockdown was announced in March 2020, colleagues began working from home. We had the technology, the right kit and lots of wellbeing support in place to allow them to do this safely while maintaining a continuity of service for customers. We’re so very proud of the way the whole team embraced this when going into completely unknown territory.

Help doesn’t just stop once the first payment is made, either. Thirteen invests heavily in all kinds of support to provide a comprehensive, wrap around service. Once the UC team has done its part, customers can still get help from our money advice officers, more intensive, floating support is available if they need it, and all of our customers have access to support with jobs and training from our employability service.

In recent months, we’ve really focused on improving the overall experience for customers by introducing an online appointment booking system, along with extended availability and operating hours. We’ve utilised Voicescape to contact customers and the appointment booking is managed by our touchpoint call centre colleagues. This has given us a 92% success rate in customer contact and brought efficiencies in the UC team, giving them more time to spend speaking to customers, rather than making repeat calls to try and make appointments.

 

Community resilience

Looking forward, the next stage in the roll-out of UC is managed migration, when other customers will receive their notice of legacy benefits ending and the need to claim UC instead. While this has been suspended due to the pandemic, we will absolutely make sure that the customers who need support receive it from us when the time comes.

We’re also developing a toolkit of resources that will be available to empower our communities. The aim is that as well as providing our one-to-one support, the toolkit will help local people become more confident and skilled at managing their finances.

People are very resilient in lots of ways, and let’s face it, we’ve all had to be especially so over the last ten months, but we’ve found that this doesn’t always translate into financial resilience. We really want this toolkit to work for customers to help them feel more in control and feel empowered to manage not just their tenancies more confidently, but other areas of their finances too.

Universal Credit – Your Homes Newcastle Perspective

Newcastle upon Tyne was one of the first areas where Universal Credit was introduced, and Your Homes Newcastle have been managing its impact for 6 years. We have seen the progress of roll-out, from minor tweaks around the edges, to significant overhauls in IT systems and legislation. We are now in a position to reflect on how much Universal Credit has changed the way we approach rent collection, and the need to provide support to enable customers to manage their household finances and sustain their tenancies.

In advance of Universal Credit roll out, we had already established the impact Welfare Reform was likely to have on our customers and our ability to recover rent. Moving away from a generic housing officer role, we created Income Officers to work exclusively with current tenants. This allowed us to effectively manage the impact of changes such as the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap and proved vital to allowing us to effectively deal with Universal Credit when it did (eventually!) come around.

Initially we created a new project team of a select number of officers to manage Universal Credit roll out. This approach was beneficial to us in the long term. By having a team who were solely dedicated to UC, we were able to identify the challenges posed by the benefit and what changes would need to be made to systems and processes once numbers really ramped up. We also developed great local connections with the DWP and were able to co-locate staff in Jobcentres. This specialist project ran for over 3 years at an additional cost to the business but was essential to influencing how we needed to approach UC.

Our team recognise the importance of early intervention when customers move onto UC or experience a change of circumstances whilst in receipt of the benefit. Whilst labour intensive, it has always felt the right level of support to offer. Although we’ve been getting to grips with it for years, we always have to remember that very often it is a customer’s first experience of claiming benefit and as a landlord we can support them through the process. From September 2019 we rolled out a new Financial Inclusion Team to work within our Income service. This has ensured we have a resource to support customers where issues may have arisen with their claim or they’ve seen a drop in income. It also builds on the early work we did around getting to grips legislation. Having a resource which can quickly respond to key changes to Universal Credit means we are on the front foot and able to identify customers affected. Our Income Officer role has also changed, making the most of technology to ensure we are targeting the right customer groups, freeing up officer time to focus on maximising engagement with hard to reach customers. Our current annual expenditure on staffing and resources to manage Universal Credit is just over £120,000.

Although Covid-19 has been challenging for our customers, we are confident that the changes we made as UC rolled out, with a greater emphasis on maximising engagement and providing support, have put us in the strongest position to manage it’s impact. We have moved less cases through the escalation process towards eviction, and seen improved levels of rent collection and sustainment.

Changes to the New Homes Bonus – we want your views

The Government is consulting on potential changes to the New Homes Bonus.  The NHC will be responding to the consultation as part of our efforts to make housing policy work for the North, and we’d like to hear member views.

The New Homes Bonus was introduced in 2011 as part of the Coalition government’s localism initiatives, and was intended to reward and incentivise housing growth.  It has been subject to change since it was introduced, and now Government has launched a consultation proposing a number of options for further change, these are around:

  • How housing growth is measured and rewarded by the Bonus
  • The potential for the Bonus to be utilised to support infrastructure in areas with low land values
  • Using the Bonus to incentivise use of modern methods of construction
  • Potential to require an up-to-date local plan in order to receive the Bonus.

The consultation can be accessed here, and a summary list of questions being posed by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government is also available.

The NHC would welcome member views on the proposals in the consultation. Whilst our local authority members would be most directly affected by changes to the Bonus, we recognise that housing associations, ALMOs and combined authorities may also have views they wish to contribute.  Karen Brown (Senior Policy Advisor) is coordinating our response. She can be contacted at karen.brown@northern-consortium.org.uk or on 0191 566 1021.   Please ensure comments reach Karen by 26th March so that they can be considered as part of our response.